Last weekend, my seven-year old was racing with a friend at the park when the other boy tripped and fell. My son stopped running, leaned over to ask the boy if he was ok, and extended his hand to help him up. As I watched from afar, a spontaneous, happy thought popped into my head: “What a good kid!”
It’s something we all want – to raise “good kids” – kids who are caring, respectful, and ethical.
But what can we do every day to help nurture the seeds of love, care and connection that exist in all our kids from an early age – and help our kids grow into kind, generous adults?
Researchers at Harvard’s Making Caring Common project have some ideas and practical tips to support your kids at every age. Here are our favorites you can use today.
#1 Send a Clear Message: Kindness counts
Kids need to hear from us that how they treat others is as important to us as their own happiness.
What you can do: Consider your words
Think about the messages you’re sending. Instead of saying, “The most important thing to me is that you’re happy,” you might say: “The most important thing is that you’re kind and you’re happy.” When you ask teachers or coaches about your child’s progress, ask about how they act as community members, not just their grades or performance.
#2 Give kids a chance to practice gratitude
The research shows – people who have a habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, and compassionate. A regular practice of gratitude is a simple way to support your child’s health and happiness.
What you can do: Make a habit of expressing thanks daily
Consider making the expression of gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Encourage children to express appreciation for family members, teachers, or others who contribute to their lives. (As a bonus, this practice provides a great window into what’s on your child’s mind each day.)
#3 Walk the talk: Let your child see you performing acts of kindness
The best way for our kids to learn about what it means to be a “good person” is to see us modeling ethical behaviors and actions. Kids listen to us most when they see us walking the talk.
What you can do: Service from the start
How does your child observe you serving others? Can you and your child volunteer together in your community? Even young children can be a part of giving back by helping prepare food for a neighbor in need.
#4 Zoom out to expand your child’s “circle of concern”
For most kids, it’s easy to care about your small circle of family and friends, but how do we help kids learn to have empathy for people outside their circle? Think about helping kids to zoom in to listen closely to those in their immediate circle, and zoom out to consider the perspective of those on the outside.
What you can do: Support children facing challenges
For many kids, the easiest window to a new perspective is through other children. Encourage your child to consider the perspectives and feelings of those who may be vulnerable. Ask your child about classmates who may need some extra kindness and see if they can identify ways to be more inclusive of that child.
#5 Help kids manage difficult feelings
When we have difficult feelings of anger, shame or envy, it’s harder for us to be generous with others. It’s our job to teach kids that all feelings are ok, but some ways of dealing with negative feelings are not useful.
What you can do: Stop, Breathe, Count
A simple way to help children manage their feelings is to practice three easy steps together: stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Try it when your child is calm. Then, when you see your child getting upset, remind him or her about the steps and do them together.
Above all, the best way to help our kids grow into loving, caring adults is to make them feel loved. When kids feel loved and safe, they can hear us and all the important lessons we are trying to share, through our words and our actions.
Learn more here.